Parenting Practices and School Dropout: A Longitudinal Study

Article excerpt

When adolescents drop out of school, the results are psychosocially and economically costly, for both the individual and society. As our modern knowledge-based societies increasingly rely on a highly skilled labor force, young people without upper secondary education are more vulnerable than ever before. They have fewer work opportunities, and are less likely to return to education and training later in life, compared to those who finish school (e.g., Rumberger & Lamb, 2003). They also face a higher risk of various negative outcomes; they may be unemployed, live in poverty, have health problems, and engage in antisocial behavior (see Rumberger & Thomas, 2000).

In recent years the problem of school dropout has received increased attention. The European Union has proposed a common benchmark for the member states: by the year 2010, the early school-leaving rate should be no more than 10% in any given country (Council of the European Union, 2004). In the U.S. this problem has also been addressed nationally as one of the National Educational Goals adopted in 1990 (U. S. Department of Education, 1990). Moreover, in the federal reform plan, the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, all states are required to incorporate graduation rates into their accountability systems for high schools (U.S. Department of Education, 2002). In Iceland, where this study was conducted, the dropout problem is also of concern; currently the Icelandic government is presenting educational reforms that aim to reduce dropout (Upper Secondary School Act No. 92/2008).

The family has been recognized as one of the primary contributors to children's success at school (Rumberger, 1995). Studies of the family's influence on school dropout, however, have at least four important shortcomings. First, such studies tend to focus too strongly on structural characteristics, such as parents' socioeconomic status (SES). Second, studies examining parental influence on school success have mainly focused on the relationship between parental involvement in their child's education and academic achievement but seldom on school dropout. Third, findings about the relationship between parental involvement and school success have been inconsistent, and fourth, most studies on school dropout are cross-sectional. The purpose of this study was to explore more general aspects of parenting in relation to school dropout; we examine the relationship of both parental involvement and parenting style with school dropout. Moreover, we use a longitudinal design.

THE FAMILY AND EDUCATIONAL OUTCOMES

Research on family influences has been criticized for focusing on such structural characteristics as parents' socioeconomic status to explain children's school success and failure (e.g., Alexander, Entwisle, & Horsey, 1997). Findings consistently show that students in higher SES groups are academically more successful and less likely to drop out of school than students in lower SES groups (see McNeal, 1999; Rosenthal, 1998). These studies, however, provide little insight into what is occurring in family life that helps the students succeed at school (Davis-Kean, 2005). Studies in this area have also been criticized for using a narrow definition of parental support (see Jeynes, 2007).

Parental Involvement

Studies on the influence of parenting on school outcomes have mainly focused on specific parental practices such as involvement in their child's education, mostly in relation to academic achievement and rarely in relation to school dropout (McNeal, 1999; Rumberger, 1995). Common indicators of parental involvement include contacts between parents and school, parental involvement in school activities, parent-child communication about school, parental supervision involving homework, and parents' educational aspirations for their child (Fan & Chen, 2001; McNeal, 1999). Despite the many studies on parents' involvement and children's academic achievement, the nature of the relationship remains unclear (Jeynes, 2007; McNeal, i999). …